Large corporations and city governments experience a significantly higher amount of crime than their small town counterparts. But when it comes to cyber crime, does that same standard hold true?
Does being in a smaller town or city protect you from cybersecurity threats?
Personal data is valuable to cybercriminals no matter where a business is located. In fact, your data might be more at risk because hackers specifically target small municipalities and businesses.
So, what can a small town or county government do to protect itself and its taxpayers? What security standards should small businesses and municipalities strive to meet? Where can you turn for help in shoring up your defenses?
Why You NEED a Cybersecurity Plan – Even if You Never Lock Your Door
What Makes Small Towns (Or Businesses) Attractive Targets
Small town life is slow paced compared to big city living. Even smaller cities, like Louisville, are much slower paced than Chicago, LA, or NYC. Communities like Louisville are tight knit and crime is often less serious or frequent than in the bigger cities.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean small towns are insulated from cybercrime. Sensitive data sells, whether you live in rural Kentucky or New York City. And that false sense of security may be your very downfall when it comes to digital data.
Smaller local governments and businesses are appealing marks for bad actors for a few key reasons:
- Lack of resources – Small towns and businesses may not have access to funding, experts in the field, or information to help protect themselves. Cyber criminals take advantage of this ignorance wherever they can.
- Lack of expertise – There are up to 1.8 million unfilled cybersecurity jobs in 2022, according to the Center for Cyber Safety and Education. That number is only expected to grow in the coming years. Rural areas struggle to fill those roles due to a lack of experts and/or an inability to offer competitive wages and benefits.
- Limited access to remediation – When a state government is hacked, the entire state’s law enforcement resources investigate and remediate the attack. When your local government is attacked, they might be assigned an agent but they won’t be a high priority. This means the culprits are less likely to face punishment for their crimes.
- Small governments are not isolated – Local municipalities are linked with the county, state, and the federal government. Not only are they susceptible to cyber attack individually, they are susceptible via that link in a wider attack.
Your medium or small town or business may not seem vulnerable, but your sensitive data is just as valuable to cybercriminals. Plain and simple, if you’re connected to the internet, it can happen to you.
How to Shore Up Small Town Cyber Defenses
The number one way to make yourself a less attractive target to cyber attackers is actually pretty simple. Educate yourself on threats, vulnerabilities, and risks, and implement basic cybersecurity measures and monitoring practices. By taking preventative steps and keeping an eye out for new vulnerabilities or threats, you can protect yourself.
IT security planning is daunting and can seem too complicated for your business or county seat to roll out. We’re going to discuss key cybersecurity principles and tools to give you a basic understanding of how to protect yourself.
What Are Information Security, Cybersecurity, and Network Security?
The first thing you need to know is that information security, cybersecurity, and network security are not completely independent concepts. They build on each other and work together to protect your business.
Information security is a broad term that encompasses all practices designed to protect your business’ data – digital and physical.
Cybersecurity is a component of information security that safeguards your digital data, network, and technology by vigilantly monitoring for external threats.
And, last but not least, network security is a facet of cybersecurity that focuses on shoring up your network’s internal defenses against unauthorized access or misuse of your data.
All three are integral pieces of protecting your small town or business’ network. They build trust with your customers and employees that their personal information is secure and safe with you. If you’d like to learn more about these three concepts, read our article about them here!
Threats, Vulnerabilities, and Risk Explained
Cyber Threats are anything that has the potential to damage, steal, or destroy data. These generally fall into one of three categories: intentional, unintentional, and natural. They can come from inside or outside of your organization.
Vulnerabilities are weak spots in your digital ecosystem through which attackers access data. Creating a patch can solve one vulnerability at a time… But there are often hundreds, which can be very resource heavy to fix individually.
Cyber risk is the relationship between threats, vulnerabilities, and a business’ assets or data. It is represented by the formula Threats + Vulnerabilities = Risk. Analyzing known threats and cross-referencing them with documented vulnerabilities can tell you where the most cyber risk lies.
Thus, risk-based vulnerability management is our recommended approach to cybersecurity. It takes all these factors into account and helps to prioritize issues based on their potential impact.
There’s a ton more to learn about cyber risk, threats, and vulnerabilities. Read more, if you’re interested!
Cybersecurity Measures That You Can’t Skip
These items are the fundamentals of an effective cybersecurity plan in a big city or small town. Even if you can’t afford a full time security expert, these protections will make it harder for bad guys to access sensitive data.
You must document each piece of your plan. This enables everyone in your organization to know what is expected of them in regards to cybersecurity. And legally, it’s important to have a reference in the event of a breach.
- Install anti-malware & anti-virus software – Malware is software designed with ill intent. Viruses are a subset of malware that automatically reproduce themselves within a network until the entire network is infected. Anti-malware and anti-virus programs scan for and remove these programs from your devices. Once you install them, remember to keep them updated in order to ensure you’re protected against the latest threats.
- Install a firewall – A firewall monitors and protects access to your hardware and software. They block malware from ever being downloaded onto your devices. Firewalls enable you to monitor and restrict network traffic, unsafe or inappropriate websites, and even emails from dubious origins. These also require regular updates in order to be the most effective.
- Use a VPN – Virtual private networks (VPNs) provide a secure connection between your device and websites or online services. Think of them like a P.O. Box. If cybercriminals are trying to get your IP address or other data, the VPN hides that information behind its own. This is crucial to keep you safe when you connect to public networks, like an airport, cafe, or hotel.
- Encrypt your data – Data encryption takes your data and scrambles it into cipher text, which requires an encryption key to decrypt. Even if a bad guy gains unauthorized access to your data, encryption renders it useless to them, provided you’ve kept the encryption key secure.
- Use complex passwords and 2FA – Protect all your devices, applications, and files with passwords and multi-factor authentication wherever you can. Passwords should be complex (containing lowercase & uppercase letters, symbols, and numbers and no easily identifiable information). They should be changed every 3 months or so. Multi-factor authentication helps you to ensure that no unauthorized access to your programs or data occurs. It does so by requiring an additional point of verification beyond a password: a one-time verification code, biosecurity input, or PIN.
- Purchase cybersecurity insurance – Data breaches cost businesses an average of $4.24 million according to IBM’s annual Cost of a Data Breach report. If you want to survive a potential breach, a cybersecurity insurance policy can provide financial and mitigation resources to help you pre and post breach.
- Run regular cybersecurity scans – In addition to implementing basic protections, it’s key to continually monitor for new threats and vulnerabilities. That way your security plan can ebb and flow with the tides. Regular cybersecurity scans are the best way to accomplish that goal.
- Train your staff thoroughly – Social engineering attacks prey on ignorant or naive staff members through social media or email. These attacks gather information needed to hack into your systems. Regular training on how to recognize threats, choose complex passwords, use multi-factor authentication, encrypt data, and so on is the most effective way to up your security level across the board.
Cybersecurity Standards You Need To Strive to Meet
There are regulatory and compliance requirements that certain industries and municipalities are required to meet if they store personal data. HIPAA, for example, is a widely known privacy law which applies to medical data and the healthcare industry.
The GLBA (Graham-Leach-Bliley Act) regulates and protects financial data, digitally and physically, within the U.S.
COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act) regulates and protects the personal data of U.S. children 12 years old or younger.
Three U.S. States (California, Colorado, and Virginia) have comprehensive privacy laws that apply to consumer data.
NIST, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, develops cybersecurity guidelines and best practices. They are good to follow if you find yourself in an otherwise unregulated segment or location. They also compile resources for cybersecurity awareness and education.
Lock Your Data Down
No matter where you live or how crime-free your small town is, cybercriminals are a significant threat. Failing to prioritize cybersecurity means you’re leaving the door wide open to significant financial losses or legal consequences.
Preventing a data breach does require work and ongoing maintenance. Luckily there are creative ways to implement an effective cybersecurity plan no matter your budget. If you’d like to speak with a security consultant at Cloud Nexus, we’d love to provide you with a cybersecurity analysis and build out your strategy from there.